8. Chapter 8
During the day, the rhythmic monotony of hoof beats allowed me to drift into reverie; I had much to think over and ponder. Faramir was often in my thoughts; I still quailed to think how close I had come to losing him. I would never forgive myself that I had failed to recognise the depth of his distress, and that I had failed to intervene earlier to prevent his collapse. There was still so much of him that was a mystery to me; his kindness and compassion were aspects of his personality that hid the depths of his self-doubt and his pain. He was one of the bravest men I had ever met. You only had to hear the testimony of the men under his command to recognise the respect and honour that they afforded him and yet his iron will was an effective mask hiding a bruised and fragile soul.
Twice now he had sent me away from him, on the day of the coronation and again from his sick bed, and yet I wasn’t daunted and I never for one moment doubted that he loved me. I’m not sure that I had been able to hide the hurt when he told me to go with my brother, but now as the leagues lengthened between us a new thought came to me; he wasn’t sending me away but was taking an impossible choice from my shoulders, another illustration of his insight and compassion over-riding his own interests. He didn’t want me to be torn between my duty and love for my people and my love for him; his capacity for self-sacrifice was almost breathtaking in its ruthlessness.
As we drew closer to Edoras, my mind turned increasingly to what we would find on our return. We had ridden away to the call of war leaving only a token guard to protect the city; King Théoden had led the warriors to Helm’s Deep and the refugees had retreated to Dunharrow. Our people were dispersed, their homes and villages in the Westfold laid waste by the invading marauders; re-ordering the land would be a long and painful process, and I owed it to my people to assist in that recovery.
We rode through the city gate to a scene of chaos and confusion. Many of the refugees had made their way to the city seeking stability and reassurance within the palisade. The captain of the guard met us at the doorway to the Golden Hall, his relief at our arrival palpable in his salute. He gave his report while we snatched a hasty meal; Edoras had escaped the attention of Saruman’s allies, but the outlying villages were not so lucky and were still subject to attack from isolated bands of Orcs and Wildmen.
Eomer assigned to me the task of ordering the city, resettling the refugees and organising those fit and able to work for the benefit of all. I followed the model that Faramir had used so successfully in Minas Tirith; all provisions were pooled into a central store and distributed equitably. Homes were allocated on the basis of need- many families had lost husbands, brothers and sons and the women now headed many households. We had many orphans to care for, and it fell to me to find families or foster-families to care for them.
Eomer concentrated on re-organising the remnants of the Eored into workable units, but their numbers were sadly depleted. It would take many seasons to restore them to full strength. Units were sent out to Helm’s Deep and Dunharrow to assess their strengths and to accompany any refugees who wished to return to Edoras.
The weeks passed quickly in a blur of activity until we had established a degree of stability and order. I heard from Gondor only once; messages came from Minas Tirith by courier for my brother and one pouch included a letter for me from Merry. He gave me news from the city and details of the arrival of Arwen Evenstar and the wedding of the King. The only news of Faramir was that he had been sent away to Dol Amroth shortly after my departure. This explained why he had sent me no messages but left me in the dark as to his recovery and puzzled as to why he had been sent away from his home city. I know he had been intending to leave Minas Tirith after the coronation, but I feared now that he had resigned his Stewardship. I had no idea what this meant for me or for our future together; I hoped we still had a future together.
The day loomed that would see the troop mount up for the ride back to Gondor to escort home the body of the King. On the evening before his departure, I took supper with my brother; we discussed the organisation and running of the Land during his absence. I asked him to carry a letter to Lord Faramir, for I was sure that it would be possible to have it forwarded to Dol Amroth; it was a bland and rather impersonal letter because I was eager not to make assumptions about Faramir’s feelings or about his future. I did ask my brother if he could make discreet enquiries without betraying my interest; the last thing I wanted was to be the subject of gossip and speculation.
I stayed behind; the journey to Gondor and back was likely to take more than a month and I was to take charge in my brother’s absence. There was much to organise, for we expected many dignitaries to accompany the cortège and attend the funeral ceremonies. I had little time to think or to brood; we had insufficient accommodation within the King’s quarters to house all of the expected guests. After consulting with the Chamberlain of the King’s Household we decided to commandeer the larger, more comfortable dwellings of the city and furnish them as befitted Royal and eminent guests.
During a foray into long closed store-rooms, I came across an oak chest bearing the seal of my father’s household. When opened, it revealed many letters and documents and my father’s sword and regalia. Hidden at the bottom of the chest was a leather pouch containing jewellery; one piece I recognised for it had been a piece that fascinated me as a child. It was a circular cloak clasp, cunningly designed of two interlocking pieces that when joined looked like a single brooch. It was the size of my palm, fashioned of yellow and white metal, heavily decorated with intricate, twisted banding and cabochons of precious stones, in the centre the image of a running steed. It had been given to my father by my mother as a betrothal gift, a true family heirloom. I tucked it into my pocket, hoping that I would find a use for it before too long.
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